UK wary of bid to regain home fee status for European students

European Commission scheme would improve mobility between EU and UK for young people

April 19, 2024
December 2, 2016: Passport control signage on the floor at Gatwick Airport directs passengers to 'non EU', 'UK' and 'EU' passport control points.
Source: iStock/Christopher Ames

The European Commission has proposed a post-Brexit mobility scheme with the UK that could make it easier for young people to study abroad, but the Westminster government has signalled that it is reluctant to play ball.

In a recommendation for a European Council decision, the commission advises opening negotiations with the UK on an “agreement to facilitate youth mobility”, which would restore some of the exchange lost after Brexit. The envisaged agreement would apply to UK and European Union citizens aged between 18 and 30, allowing them to stay in the countries of their choice for up to four years. Mobility would not be “purpose-bound”, meaning a young person need not study or work in their destination country, for instance, in order to stay.

The commission stipulates that young people should receive “equal treatment” regarding tuition fees, noting that EU citizens currently studying in the UK are subject to “very high” international student fees. Should the proposal become reality, EU citizens would pay the equivalent of domestic tuition fees, which are capped at £9,250 a year in England for undergraduate degrees.

At present, EU students and doctoral researchers have “more difficult access or no access” to benefits such as student loans or scholarships, the commission says. “The result is a decline in the number of union students in the United Kingdom.”

In the council recommendation, the commission says the proposal came in the wake of the UK’s efforts to establish individual mobility deals with “several (but not all) member states” in 2023. “This approach would result in differential treatment of union nationals,” the commission says.

“The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union has hit young people in the EU and the UK who would like to study, work and live abroad particularly hard,” said Maroš Šefčovič, the commission’s executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, inter-institutional relations and foresight.

“Today, we take the first step towards an ambitious but realistic agreement between the EU and the UK that would fix this issue. Our aim is to rebuild human bridges between young Europeans on both sides of the Channel.”

Speaking to the BBC, the Home Office indicated a preference for individual youth mobility schemes, calling existing programmes “successful” and adding that it remained “open to agreeing them with our international partners, including EU member states”.

A Labour Party spokesperson told the broadcaster that it had “no plans for a youth mobility scheme” but aimed to improve EU-UK relations in other ways.

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